In a span of 26 hours, the Blackhawks traded away two former first-round picks, a 2016 first-round pick, a 2018 second-round pick, a conditional 2018 third-round pick, and a veteran defenseman in exchange for four pending unrestricted free agents.
Stan Bowman is all in.
The Hawks general manager had a few chips left after landing Andrew Ladd on Thursday night, and he pushed them in the center of the table on Friday, acquiring forwards Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann from the Montreal Canadiens for Phil Danault and a 2018 second-round pick. Earlier in the day, Bowman traded Rob Scuderi to Los Angeles for Christian Ehrhoff, as the Western Conference’s top two teams swapped aging defensemen that had been buried in the minor leagues and in need of a change of scenery.
If the Hawks win their second straight Stanley Cup, their third in four years and their fourth in seven years, they’ll be hailed as brilliant moves. If the Hawks don’t win, however, they’ll be seen in hindsight as massive risks that cost the Hawks a small, but potentially significant, part of their future.
“It’s always hard to do,” Bowman said Thursday night of balancing the present and the future. “I think the challenge is trying to weigh what it’s going to take to get the deal done.”
After landing Ladd — arguably the top rental on the market — to flesh out the Hawks’ top line, Bowman picked up Weise likely to play on the third line alongside Teuvo Teravainen, who had just moved back to his natural position of center this week. The 27-year-old Weise has 14 goals and 12 assists in 56 games for the Canadiens this season, and the 31-year-old Fleischmann has 10 goals and 10 assists in 57 games.
Danault was a 2011 first-round pick who had carved out a nice niche for himself this season as the Hawks’ third-line center following offseason hip surgery. Marko Dano, sent to Winnipeg in the Ladd trade, was a first-round pick of Columbus in the 2013 draft, and was a key part of the Brandon Saad trade last summer. The Hawks have no first- or second-round pick this year.
“Phillip Danault is a young and gifted player who will be part of our core group of young forwards for many years to come,” said Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, who was part of the Hawks front office when they drafted Danault.
The trades are high-risk, but the reward could be even higher. The Hawks entire lineup has been transformed by the two high-profile deals. Carried all season by Patrick Kane’s line, the Hawks suddenly have four viable lines again — the hallmark of their 2010, 2013 and 2015 championship teams. A top line of Ladd, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa is tantalizing. A third line of Weise, Teravainen and, say, Richard Panik or Fleischmann has plenty of offensive punch. And the chance to reunite last spring’s brilliant fourth line of Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger (who should be back by the playoffs) and Andrew Shaw could put the Hawks back over the top.
As Joel Quenneville always says, “Things change quickly in our business.”
As for the Ehrhoff move, it’s a low-profile move that could give the Hawks a puck-moving, possession-driving veteran left-side defenseman, if Ehrhoff regains the form that once earned him a 10-year, $40-million deal with Buffalo, and doesn’t remain the guy who was bought out of that deal, and who was a mostly failed experiment with the Kings this season.
Perhaps most importantly, Ehrhoff will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, while Scuderi is signed through next year. Still, the Hawks are retaining 50 percent of Scuderi’s salary in the deal, meaning they’ll still have a $1.125-million cap hit next year for him. The Kings are retaining 15 percent of Ehrhoff’s $1.3-million cap hit for the rest of the season.
It was a low-risk move. Unlike the two big ones Bowman made. Already the top team in the Western Conference, the Hawks are going for it again. And this time, anything less than a championship will be a crushing disappointment.